Thursday, 12 December 2013


I wasn't always metal-bound. One night it just happened. I was drifting off into the land of nod and then I couldn't move. Literally. My limbs were pinned down, my vocal cords cut and my voice stolen. Frozen, nevertheless I tried to fight this strange sensation. My mind racing with scared thoughts, why can't I move? WHY CAN'T I MOVE? Being unable to call out was far worse for that's what I've always done in sleeping nightmares, even though when you live alone nobody is there to hear them. I couldn't even utter a squeak, yet lying there I made it my goal to say “NO!” I knew this one word would stop whatever this was, bring a halt to proceedings. I would not allow the watchful presence I felt in the room to pull me into this dark, dead sleep.
Somehow, in my fright I forced no out nonoNoNoNONO! A string of them from silent to soft to a boom. Then I found my limbs and body had been miraculously freed from their paralytic state. Bewildered, I immediately reached for the switch on the bedside lamp and flooded the room with pure light. All clear. Everything was still in its natural place and nothing was there that shouldn't be there, even the shadows were right.
Cold, clammy fear. Now I was terrified to attempt to go back to sleep. What if it happened again? What I couldn't get myself out of it? For the rest of the night, I slept with the bedside light on in an unrelieved stop-start doze, and when in the morning I came fully to I wasn't sure if I'd imagined it.
Tired the next day, I struggled to think what to make of it? Then it occurred again and again and again...
But with irregularity. Every couple of months, and each time I managed to prevent myself from being dragged into the black void. What did it want with me? I told myself the next time I'd let myself go, enter it, but the shadow always snuck up and frightened me. It also moved to the daytime too so if I tried to catch some zzzzs, I felt the pull instantly. A dead feeling would come over me; my body was heavy and my mind was a dead weight. Defending myself from these overwhelming effects was futile, I had to head straight back to bed and pull the covers over me. Once there, the experience would be different. I was drawn into a comatose state and a vivid 3D world of hallucination. So real, I could see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and taste it.
There were gospel choirs, sounds of drumming, and marching bands; labyrinths with openings, no exits, and corridors; and insects. Conversations with people I'd never met before that I really thought had taken place. Involved, I was not scared, but the part where I tried to wake up was again a nightmare. Completely coming to, and staying that way, was a tremendous effort. My mind had to fight to regain control until the NONONOs roared out of me, and the after-effects were drug-like. The day starts over as if I'm just overtired or hungover. I rub my bleary eyes and splash my face with tepid water.
The daytime phenomenon is a curiosity. It's the nights that terrify me...
Research tells me it's a form of sleep paralysis, but that hasn't reassured me. No article has described it perfectly, until recently when a novel bizarrely turned its focus to that same dark shadow. Metal-binding, as it's known, is common in Tokyo, which the teenager narrator says is when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't move. A spirit sits on your chest and you hear voices like angry demons, or sometimes while you lying there your body floats away. Metal-bound: rigid like a steel rod.
The fear hasn't gone, but at least I know in Japanese it's kanashibari.

*As revealed in A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki